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Worst to Best, What Each “Doctor Who” Brought to the Character

Doctor Who Tennant v Baker

With Jodie Whittaker’s second series of Doctor Who just days away, it’s worth it to revisit an old list and update it. Peter Capaldi and Jodie Whittaker have both spent time as the Doctor since I last put something like this together, and both rank pretty high for the time they’ve spent in the role.

Doctor Who is all the rage now, but there once was a time when it was the kind of thing they’d show on PBS on Sunday nights for only the nerdiest of children (hi). I would stay up late just to see what trouble the Doctor could get themself into this time. Little did I know the show had already been canceled years earlier, and I was heading toward a very abrupt and disappointing end.

The Doctor didn’t really die, though. They never really die. Much as the Doctor regenerated from one life to the next, I would seek them out in novelizations and choose-your-own-adventure books. Doctor Who stressed nonviolent resolution and the responsibility that came with power. Some kids had comic books. I had British television.

I wanted to consider each actor, worst to best, but in a way that looks at what each Doctor added to the character’s psyche. Any list that ranks the first actors lowest simply because they’re old, stodgy, and don’t look good in YouTube clips needs to understand how Doctor Who used to be less of a cinematic adventure and more of an experimental stage play on TV. After all, television has changed a lot over 50 years. Not every Doctor can be judged on today’s cinematic standards.

And so, with the caveat that we’ve been pretty lucky so far – there’s never been a truly bad actor helming Doctor Who – this is how I’d rank the performers who have played the Doctor, worst to best.

13. Colin Baker — The Sixth Doctor

Colin Baker is typically remembered as the only bad Doctor, but this is overstating it. He gave us a cynical, caustic Doctor, determined to do the right thing as always, but constantly bogged down by his own short nerve and fatalist outlook.

He also prided himself in believing he was the most intelligent regeneration yet, which alienated fans right off the bat. The writers supported this, but if his professorly predecessor (Peter Davison) spent all his time with his nose in a book in order to solve mysteries, fans hardly enjoyed this upstart pulling his solutions out of the thin air of his overheated intellect.

In truth, Colin Baker’s was a complex delivery revealed far too slowly (and flatly). He’d only become excited at his own accomplishments, dismissing those of others, while the Doctor’s famous empathy got few chances to shine before Colin was axed. Had he been given more time, perhaps his Doctor could have evolved into something more. As is, the Doctor’s narrative arc of loss and evolution into a darker character – key to the Fifth and Sixth iterations – later became core facets of David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s interpretations.

12. Paul McGann — The Eighth Doctor

McGann hardly got much of a chance, only starring in a failed Fox TV reboot in 1996. When Doctor Who was successfully rebooted in 2005, it was actually an exceptionally kind nod to McGann to acknowledge his Doctor’s single TV appearance as part of the show’s canon. He’s the Doctor we never had much chance to see evolve. The weakness of his portrayal isn’t so much his as it is due to the changes Fox made to the character in an Americanized adaptation.

11. Christopher Eccleston — The Ninth Doctor

It’s popular to rank Eccleston very highly, but I have to admit to never synching up with this Doctor. It didn’t help that, as a fan of the original Doctor Who series, I disliked the direction of the 2005 reboot’s first season.

Eccleston was an inversion of the Doctor’s first actor (William Hartnell). Instead of being a warm man with a cold exterior, Eccleston’s Doctor had a childishly gleeful exterior that deflected attention from a cold hatred and general distaste.

Limiting his portrayal to a single season also stunted how extensively we could investigate that underlying pathos. Without a chance to really dive into it, fast stories seeking a second season renewal left us spending our time with the slick surfaces of Eccleston’s Doctor, and gave us very little exposure to what really made him tick.

10. Jon Pertwee — The Third Doctor

The most physical Doctor by far, Pertwee was an expert in Venusian Karate, and drove cars, planes, and boats as well as the iconic TARDIS. It helped that his home planet of Gallifrey banished Pertwee to Earth (in reality, the show was short on funds for creating other planets).

He was the James Bond of Doctors, tall, lean, upright, decked out in ever-changing costumes including frilled shirts, velvet jackets, and Inverness cloaks. He was also the most chauvinistic.

Pertwee’s ability to extend scenes on sheer charisma also covered over the writers’ inconsistencies in pacing their plots out well, but the Doctor’s dismissive attitude toward others could grow tiring quickly.

9. William Hartnell — The First Doctor

The stern Doctor, Hartnell could be a stick in the mud at times. On the surface, he was too much of a strict grandfather, but it made the moments he truly became excited all the more special. He hid a youthful exuberance and playful wittiness behind the outer shell of a frail, old man. He was the most protective and distrusting Doctor by far, constantly drawing back his companions instead of encouraging them into the fray. Instead of putting faith in them, they had to earn it over a long period of time. He obeyed the rules of being a Time Lord more than any other Doctor.

This works brilliantly in how the Doctor’s evolved, however – the gradual cracking of Hartnell’s shell allowed us to witness how a truly ancient alien like the Doctor would have rediscovered his sense of adventure and faith in others, giving us progressively younger iterations who were quicker to trust and more willing to bend the rules.

8. Peter Davison — The Fifth Doctor

Davison was the book nerd Doctor, whose episodic climaxes would often culminate with him bent over a computer or waving around a page of research while others flew spaceships at each other firing lasers willy-nilly. He knew where the action was – in spreadsheets. Essentially, he was the Rupert Giles of Doctors.

If I had to rank quality of episodes, his would be higher. His seasons boasted a uniquely 80s quality of adventure science-fiction. That’s not a knock on Davison either – this is just a list filled with great performances. (In fact, more actors who have portrayed the Doctor have ranked Davison as their favorite than any other Who, so what do I know?)

He was the most pacifist Doctor, counting himself as part of a team – he had as many as four companions on certain adventures – and often putting them in charge so that he could focus entirely on solving the mysteries they encountered. He was the Doctor least concerned with winning, and most concerned with doing what’s right.

He was also the most openly vulnerable and emotionally communicative Doctor – unlike his predecessors, he truly considered himself an equal to the alien races he’d encounter. He’s the one who brought the boyish nervousness to Doctor Who.

David Tennant has said his Tenth Doctor is based the most on his favorite, Davison.

7. Matt Smith — The Eleventh Doctor

My favorite Doctor to see think something out, Smith is the most moral Doctor. Whereas his predecessor (Tennant) began to mistake winning for success and sometimes lost sight of the bigger picture, Smith constantly bent over backwards to constrain himself ethically and find compromise.

Where Tennant’s Doctor sought solace in his ego – where his response to loss was to transform it into a personal offense – Smith’s sought that solace in remorse. He took more responsibility for the sacrifices of his companions than any other Doctor, and it was refreshing to see a Doctor who took on such a heavy toll and handled it internally.

If anything, Smith doesn’t get enough credit for making his Doctor a direct reaction to Tennant’s. Where Eccleston’s and Tennant’s pain came from loneliness and survivor’s guilt, Smith’s came from a fear of overstepping his bounds. More than anything else, this Doctor was afraid of the ego Tennant gave him. He was keenly aware of himself as a powerful being, of the danger losing his perspective held to the worlds and peoples he encountered. For all his childishness, he acted like a cage for the Doctor’s shortcomings and fears.

He’d be ranked far lower if not for his final season, when his profound grief came up against the unstoppable drive of his personal curiosity. It’s where Smith really came into his own in a way not hinted at before. He was always fun, but it’s that last season, opposite Jenna Coleman, where he finally transformed from a delightfully one-note comedian into a dramatic actor who could profoundly move you.

6. Jodie Whittaker — The Thirteenth Doctor

Whittaker hit the ground running. She hasn’t had the breadth of episodes to develop her take on the Doctor much, but she’s already established a remarkable continuation of Peter Capaldi. He concluded in a beautiful monologue about his desires and intentions in another regeneration. Whittaker is more than simply meeting them, she’s evolving them.

The continuation from Capaldi to Whittaker might be the smoothest and most thematically complete transition between Doctors yet. He was the old man who could finally present himself as an old man because he had someone he trusted enough. Whittaker is the invigoration that Capaldi’s Doctor needed to continue. She’s a determination for a new type of Doctor (or the return of an old type like Davison), one who once again builds community instead of fearing its loss.

If Capaldi ran out of confidence he could change someone with Missy, Whittaker is the response that it takes a village to do so. She’s the response that he can’t do it on his own or with a single chosen companion and it was foolish and egotistical to think he ever could. She ditches the egos that came before her, the self-importance and primacy, and simply constructs community to take on challenges. She’s the Doctor who doesn’t have to get over herself before she invites people to contribute.

She has room to climb, too. The Doctors to either side in this list, Smith and McCoy, had some time to evolve their characters and ride out the occasional rough episode. If they hadn’t, they’d be squarely at the bottom of this list. I expect Whittaker to be higher this time next year if her second series allows her more range to shine.

5. Sylvester McCoy — The Seventh Doctor

It’s a testament to his abilities that McCoy accomplished as great a standing among Who fans as he did, even while funding and support for the show were being cut out from under him. With shoddy writing and a complete lack of special effects, he sold entire worlds to viewers on a weekly basis on the effort of his acting alone.

Perhaps no Doctor had to try so hard as McCoy, who was uniquely responsible for keeping the show alive when it was in its death throes. He took the frumpy nonchalance of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, the hobo worldview of Patrick Troughton’s Second, and refined the rage of Colin Baker’s Sixth into a keen weapon.

He thrilled on making the Doctor a performer and over-actor, at one point even delaying enemies by putting on a magic show. He was accepting of others’ quirks and hammered home how the Doctor delighted in adventure for the sake of it. He’s the one who brought the sadness and loneliness of the character out, though, the one who made his joy all the more touching by posing it against his melancholy.

4. Patrick Troughton — The Second Doctor

The originator of the Doctor’s cosmic hobo factor, Troughton delighted in appearing completely innocuous, only to reveal his true capabilities once he’d fully devised a plan. He could follow his enemies an entire episode and be treated as an afterthought by appearing childish and bumbling, while he observed and took notes the whole way. Though much of his tenure has been lost (TV studios rarely kept tape of their broadcasts as reruns hadn’t been invented yet), what remains shows us the most patient and least self-possessed Doctor of them all.

Unlike other Doctors, his primary concern was his companions’ emotional well-being. This was a facet later iterations became too egocentric to notice – at least until Whittaker took over. By the same token, Troughton expected a great deal from his companions, and would show no hesitation in judging one should they betray the group, as one does in briefly allying with the Daleks, who totally don’t still appear in my nightmares I don’t even know why you would bring that up.

Smith has said his own Doctor is based most on his favorite, Troughton.

3. David Tennant — The Tenth Doctor

The foxy Doctor, but really the survivor of the bunch. Tennant said his Doctor was very much based on Davison’s, and you can tell. All the Doctors are intellectuals, but some are intergalactic hobos about it and others are sporty and refined.

The strength of Tennant’s portrayal was in showing how an idealist, through the pain of loss and sacrifice, could become an egoist, breaking the rules he once upheld in order to do what he believes is right.

Tennant’s iteration constantly struggled with survivor’s guilt. He refused to personally accept or confront his melancholy. He progressively compensated for the anger at what he couldn’t control by filling the cracks in his personality with more and more ego. This meant that, near the end, he could sometimes mistake winning a conflict for doing the right thing.

Tennant played this all with beauty and grace, with an internal struggle, pathos, and complexity unrivaled by any of the Doctor’s other actors.

2. Peter Capaldi — The Twelfth Doctor

Capaldi’s time as the Doctor centered on his friendships with three people – companions Clara and later Bill, and villain Missy. He was the rock star Doctor, who finally had someone to trust enough in Clara that he didn’t have to appear young any longer. Capaldi’s history is that of a comic actor, but his is arguably the most nuanced performance in series history.

Capaldi drew from everything those before him had established – Hartnell’s tough exterior shielding an exuberant warmth, Troughton’s hiding in plain sight and heartfelt outreach, Pertwee’s sternness (and fashion sense), Tom Baker’s alien intellect, Davison’s investment in and dedication to others, Colin Baker’s acerbic ego, McCoy’s habitual obsessions and eye for the long game, and Eccleston’s delight and keen timing.

Above these, he served as a direct reaction to Tennant and Smith. Tennant ended his time so hurt and scarred he wanted to win more than he wanted to do what was right. Smith gave us a doctor both relentlessly damaged by loss and afraid of his own ability to cause it.

Capaldi gave us the recovery to both. There were times he acted superior – and was quickly cut down by a Clara who reminded them they were a team (and had to that point saved him countless times). He had more self-awareness of his position in relation to others – sometimes acting the unknowing buffoon and sometimes taking hold of a legendary status.

Yet more often he recognized in his own wealth of resources a capacity to remain dedicated to others who were hurting. He was someone who knew he had the tools to sustain loss, who could endure it if it meant helping someone. His fight wasn’t always the adventure at hand. Sometimes it was healing someone, or shepherding them away from radicalization. The doctor’s more often been an intergalactic policeman than a doctor. Capaldi started to correct this.

1. Tom Baker — The Fourth Doctor

Impertinent. Impatient. If you’ve never seen him, imagine some combination of Groucho Marx, Gene Wilder, and Ian McKellen, with the face of an extraordinarily expressive scarecrow. He delivered the Doctor’s most satirical lines like he was reciting Shakespeare, in a deep voice that seemed to bellow as if you were watching him from the perfect seat at center stage.

He was the Doctor who could run circles around opponents while prioritizing a game of chess against his robot dog, who could threaten an entire room with a word while slouched unmoving and content in an armchair. Proud of his impishness, yet never satisfied with his achievements, what he really brought to the character was drive. The Doctor’s always been driven to save others, but Tom Baker’s was the first who was driven to constantly better himself.

Though his ego was immense, he was his own most critical judge. Likewise, he could cut a companion down without a word or make them think they’d accomplished miracles with a simple, “Well done.” He was also the first Doctor who truly seemed alien in his thinking. You could believe Tom Baker’s Doctor had whole worlds of information swirling around in his head, constantly vying for attention like impatient children tugging at his coattails.

Every other Doctor but Tennant, Capaldi, and Tom Baker seems to fall into a very specific definition, but these three were the Doctors who gave the character so much more. Tom Baker was stern like Hartnell, could disarm you with the seeming ignorance of Troughton, and could turn an entire situation around with a well-placed word like Pertwee. He was the best of each of his predecessors, and more than any of them found true fascination and joy in the imperfections and flaws of others. He would adapt himself to his companions rather than demanding they adapted to him and, while he could shift who he was depending on what was needed, you never doubted who he was at his center.

The cleverness of Tom Baker’s comedy hides a much deeper, more complete dramatic performance. You could give this to Capaldi or Tennant and I wouldn’t argue, but Tom Baker did more with less, and is the most singular, impossible-to-imitate personality the Doctor ever had.

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Love Letter to the Human Race — “Interstellar”

Interstellar Anne Hathaway

by Gabriel Valdez

Interstellar is the best movie I have ever seen. As a critic, you’re expected never to say things like that, but that’s never how we watch movies. We invest our emotions, put ourselves into another world, develop faith in characters, we give our entire body over – our pulses race, we tremble, our mouths drop, we grip the armrests, our minds reel. We watch movies because that very next one might be the best we’ve ever seen.

We watch films as engrossing and challenging as Interstellar to find that awe and wonder we had as kids, when we looked up at the sky and dreamed that this very moment – as a people – caught us midstep in becoming something greater. We dreamed that as kids, and we never stopped dreaming it, even when we struggle.

When we struggle, we hope, or we wouldn’t struggle anymore – we’d just let things be. But when we hope, we fear, and Doctor Who tells us fear is a superpower. We rage, and Dylan Thomas tells us rage is the driving force of pioneers. We wonder, and Star Trek tells us wonder is the thing that can unite entire races in the midst of destroying themselves. We’re driven by love, and Robert Heinlein tells us love isn’t a wild, unpredictable emotion, but rather the mastery of our pettiest stresses and insecurities.

Science-fiction houses its what-ifs in scientific theory and social experimentation, but its curiosity is invariably driven by hope. Interstellar poses an Earth that’s lost hope, caught in a postapocalypse driven not by the violence of nuclear war or excitement of zombies, but by crop plagues and soil deterioration caused by overpopulation.

Interstellar Murphy and Cooper

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was once a NASA pilot. Now, like everybody else, he’s a farmer. Corn is the only crop left. One can’t escape the feeling that his daughter Murphy’s generation will be the last on Earth.

But…Murphy has a ghost that keeps knocking books off the shelf in her bedroom. Cooper doesn’t believe her until he witnesses it during a ferocious dust storm. It’s not a ghost, it’s a gravitational anomaly, and it carries a message.

That message means Cooper will leave his family, discover the remnants of NASA and – being the last experienced pilot around – lead an expedition to find another planet for humanity’s migration. He’ll be joined by Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a sarcastic robot named TARS on a journey that will take them through wormholes, past black holes, and onto other planets.

The laws of relativity mean that, while their journey will take a few years, decades will pass on Earth. Murphy will grow up. Our pioneers don’t just need to make choices about fuel and food and air supply. Time is the resource they can’t afford to lose. On one potential planet, an hour on the surface equals 7 years back on earth. Every conversation, even about minutiae, carries the weight of the world. Our species hangs in the balance of philosophical debates.

There will be personal betrayals, nerve-wracking space maneuvers, haunting and inspiring sights of space in all its lonely glory. Pioneers will be heartbreakingly lost, the laws of physics will be bent, teary-eyed arguments will be had. Interstellar is an action movie, a tale of discovery, a crash course in both philosophy and astrophysics, but more than anything else it inspires awe in a way few pieces of art ever do.

Interstellar space

Interstellar is nothing short of a narrative masterpiece. Director Christopher Nolan’s past narrative contortions, like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception? Those seem like training runs for what Interstellar pulls off. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted science-fiction to be, and as the movie delves further into quantum mechanics, it isn’t just a science-fiction movie anymore; it becomes magical realism.

(The ending may throw some viewers – it’s heavily based in concepts like quantum consciousness. Interstellar will explain it to you fast, but it never stops too long to run down its more difficult concepts, favoring emotional reaction and more plot over understanding every little nuance. If you’ve got a basic understanding of quantum mechanics – say, you watch PBS or other science programming occasionally – you should be fine. If not, you’ll still have the film’s complete emotional journey, but you may lose out on some of the finer plot logic.)

Nolan favors an old-fashioned approach to narrative – the journey is told through simply presented story and excellent performances. Even the special effects are grounded in live action. CGI isn’t abused, but saved for exceptional moments, making their impact far greater. For my money, McConaughey delivers a performance that knocks his two last year (in Dallas Buyers Club and Mud) out of the park. There’s no trace of ego there, just a completely internalized character. Hathaway and our two Murphys, young Mackenzie Foy and adult Jessica Chastain, are nothing short of remarkable.

Interstellar Jessica Chastain

If hope contains fear and rage and wonder and love, it’s what gets us through our struggles. The single greatest gift a parent gives to a child…that’s hope. That’s practicing hope, learning hope, being disappointed in hope, and being surprised by it. It’s learning how to use it, how to make it bring out the best in us and – when all is at its worst – allowing it to master us despite all evidence to the contrary.

So you’ll understand when I tell you that, for a child raised on enough hope for himself and every other person he’s ever met, who’s been inspired by hope, betrayed because of hope, who’s been ruined by hope, achieved things he never thought he could but always suspected he would because of hope, who thinks the most important thing he can do after seeing a movie that inspires him is sit and write like a hurricane…you’ll understand when he comes away from a film like Interstellar and tells you: “This is the best movie I have ever seen.”

I don’t say that as a critic, I say that as someone who looks up at the stars every night and wonders why the hell we’re not up there in droves, who stayed up late to watch Star Trek and the really old, boring Doctor Who where every planet was the same old rock quarry, who read Asimov and Heinlein and Le Guin and Pullman until four in the morning, and who learned from them all that hope is the real superpower of the human race.

Interstellar is a movie that tells its story through impossibilities, that finds a way to treat emotion as a dimension through which you can move and marries this to complex, cutting-edge science that tells you why. It’s a rare film that reminds us “it’s hopeless” is not a state of being. It’s a challenge to do better, not just in the world’s eyes but in your own. That doesn’t mean we always will, but it does mean we should always try.

Interstellar was designed for the child who looked at the stars and wondered, and learned all he could about them, and grew up to still look at the stars and wonder. Is it the best movie ever made? Who knows, who cares? For that child, and I suspect I can’t possibly be the only one, it is the best film he or she may ever see.

Interstellar is an astonishing love letter to the human race. What else is science-fiction but exactly that?

All My Doctors — Every “Doctor Who” Actor, Worst to Best

Doctor Who Tennant v Baker

Doctor Who is all the rage now, but there once was a time when it was the kind of thing they’d show on PBS on Sunday nights for only the nerdiest of children (hi). I would stay up late just to see what trouble the Doctor could get himself into this time. Little did I know the show had already been canceled years earlier, and I was heading toward a very abrupt and disappointing end.

He didn’t really die, though. The Doctor never really dies. Much as he resurrected from one life to the next, I would seek him out in novelizations and choose-your-own-adventure books. In a funny way, he was the perfect complement to taekwondo being such a large part of my life growing up – both stressed nonviolent resolution and the responsibility that came with power. Some kids had comic books. I had British television.

As a lifelong viewer of Who, however, I keep seeing all the actors ranked and…well, usually it goes pretty chronologically. The most recent is almost always the “Best Doctor Ever,” while whoever did it before him is “Second Best,” and so on and so on.

That’s a bit ridiculous. If I was going to do this, I wanted to consider what each Doctor really added to the character’s psyche. Any list that ranks his first actor (William Hartnell) low simply because he’s old and stodgy and doesn’t look good in YouTube clips needs to understand how Doctor Who used to be less of a cinematic adventure and more of an experimental stage play on TV. After all, television has changed a lot over 50 years. Not every Doctor can be judged on today’s standards.

And so, with the caveat that we’ve been pretty lucky so far – there’s never been a truly bad actor helming Doctor Who – this is how I’d rank the performers who have played the Doctor, worst to best.

11. Colin Baker
The Sixth Doctor

Baker is typically remembered as the only bad Doctor, but this is overstating it. He gave us a cynical, caustic Doctor, determined to do the right thing as always, but constantly bogged down by his own short nerve and fatalist outlook. Unlike other Doctors, he would sometimes choose violence over escape. He had a note of vengeance in him.

He also prided himself in believing he was the most intelligent regeneration yet, which alienated fans right off the bat. The writers supported this, but if his professorly predecessor (Peter Davison) spent all his time with his nose in a book in order to solve mysteries, fans hardly enjoyed this upstart pulling his solutions out of the thin air of his overheated intellect.

In truth, Colin Baker’s was a complex delivery revealed far too slowly (and flatly). He’d only become excited at his own accomplishments, dismissing those of others, while the Doctor’s famous empathy got few chances to shine before Colin was axed. Had he been given more time, perhaps his Doctor could have evolved into something more. As is, the Doctor’s narrative arc of loss and evolution into a darker character – key to the Fifth and Sixth iterations – later became core facets of David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s interpretations.

10. Paul McGann
The Eight Doctor

McGann hardly got much of a chance, only starring in a failed Fox TV reboot in 1996. When Doctor Who was successfully rebooted in 2005, it was actually an exceptionally kind nod to McGann to acknowledge his Doctor’s single TV appearance as part of the show’s canon. He’s the Doctor we never had much chance to see evolve. The weakness of his portrayal isn’t so much his as it is due to the changes Fox made to the character in an Americanized adaptation.

9. Christopher Eccleston
The Ninth Doctor

It’s popular to rank Eccleston very highly, but I have to admit to never synching up with this Doctor. It didn’t help that, as a fan of the original Doctor Who series, I disliked the direction of the 2005 reboot’s first season.

Eccleston was an inversion of the Doctor’s first actor (William Hartnell). Instead of being a warm man with a cold exterior, Eccleston’s Doctor had a childishly gleeful exterior that deflected attention from a cold hatred and general distaste.

Limiting himself to a single season (Eccleston has managed his own career on a deep-seated fear of being typecast) also stunted how extensively we could investigate that underlying pathos. Without a chance to really dive into it, fast stories seeking a second season renewal left us spending our time with the slick surfaces of Eccleston’s Doctor, and gave us very little exposure to what really made him tick.

8. Jon Pertwee
The Third Doctor

The most physical Doctor by far, Pertwee was an expert in Venusian Karate, and drove cars, planes, and boats as well as the iconic TARDIS. It helped that his home planet of Galifrey banished Pertwee to Earth (in reality, the show was short on funds for creating other planets).

He was the James Bond of Doctors, tall, lean, upright, decked out in ever-changing costumes including frilled shirts and velvet jackets and Inverness cloaks (the last of these being my personal fashion equivalent of having died and gone to Heaven). He was also the most chauvinistic, ironic for a man so regularly dressed in crushed velvet.

Pertwee’s ability to extend scenes on sheer charisma also covered over the writers’ inconsistencies in pacing their plots out well, but the Doctor’s dismissive attitude toward others could grow tiring quickly.

7. William Hartnell
The First Doctor

The stern Doctor. Hartnell could be a stick in the mud at times, too much of a strict grandfather, but it made the moments he truly became excited all the more special. He hid a youthful exuberance and playful wittiness behind the outer shell of a frail, old man. He was the most protective and distrusting Doctor by far, constantly drawing back his companions instead of encouraging them into the fray. Instead of putting faith in them, they had to earn it over a long period of time. He obeyed the rules of being a Time Lord more than any other Doctor.

This works brilliantly in how the Doctor’s evolved, however – the gradual cracking of Hartnell’s shell allowed us to witness how a truly ancient alien like the Doctor would have rediscovered his sense of adventure and faith in others, giving us progressively younger iterations who were quicker to trust and more willing to bend the rules.

6. Peter Davison
The Fifth Doctor

Davison was the book nerd Doctor, whose episodic climaxes would often culminate with him bent over a computer or waving around a page of research while others flew spaceships at each other firing lasers willy-nilly. He knew where the action was – in spreadsheets. Essentially, he was the Rupert Giles of Doctors.

If I had to rank quality of episodes, his would be higher. His seasons boasted a uniquely 80s quality of adventure science-fiction. That’s not a knock on Davison either – this is just a list filled with great performances. (In fact, more actors who have portrayed the Doctor have ranked Davison as their favorite than any other Who, so what do I know?)

He was the most pacifist Doctor, counting himself as part of a team – he had as many as four companions on certain adventures – and often putting them in charge so that he could focus entirely on solving the mysteries they encountered. He was the Doctor least concerned with winning, and most concerned with doing what’s right.

He was also the most openly vulnerable and emotionally communicative Doctor – unlike his predecessors, he truly considered himself an equal to the alien races he’d encounter. He’s the one who brought the boyish nervousness to Doctor Who.

David Tennant has said his Tenth Doctor is based the most on his favorite, Davison.

5. Matt Smith
The Eleventh Doctor

My favorite Doctor to see think something out, Smith is the most moral Doctor. Whereas his predecessor (Tennant) began to mistake winning for success and sometimes lost sight of the bigger picture, Smith constantly bent over backwards to constrain himself ethically and find compromise.

Where Tennant’s Doctor sought solace in his ego – where his response to loss was to transform it into a personal offense – Smith’s sought that solace in remorse. He took more responsibility for the sacrifices of his companions than any other Doctor, and it was refreshing to see a Doctor who took on such a heavy toll and handled it internally.

If anything, Smith doesn’t get enough credit for making his Doctor a direct reaction to Tennant’s. Where Eccleston’s and Tennant’s pain came from loneliness and survivor’s guilt, Smith’s came from a fear of overstepping his bounds. More than anything else, this Doctor was afraid of the ego Tennant gave him. He was keenly aware of himself as a powerful being, of the danger losing his perspective held to the worlds and peoples he encountered. For all his childishness, he acted like a cage for the Doctor’s shortcomings and fears.

He’d be ranked far lower if not for his final season, when his profound fear of himself came up against the unstoppable drive of his personal curiosity. It’s where Smith really came into his own in a way not hinted at before. He was always fun, but it’s that last season, opposite Jenna Coleman, where he finally transformed from a delightfully one-note comedian into a dramatic actor who could profoundly move you.

4. Sylvester McCoy
The Seventh Doctor

The “gypsy” Doctor – that McCoy accomplished as great a standing among Who fans as he did while funding and support for the show was being cut out from under him is a testament to his abilities. With shoddy writing and a complete lack of special effects, he sold entire worlds to viewers on a weekly basis on the effort of his acting alone.

Perhaps no Doctor had to try so hard as McCoy, who was uniquely responsible for keeping the show alive when it was in its death throes. He took the frumpy nonchalance of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, the hobo worldview of Patrick Troughton’s Second, and refined the rage of Colin Baker’s Sixth into a keen weapon.

He thrilled on making the Doctor a performer and over-actor, at one point even delaying enemies by putting on a magic show. He was accepting of others’ quirks and hammered home how the Doctor delighted in adventure for the sake of it. He’s the one who brought the sadness and loneliness of the character out, though, the one who made his joy all the more touching by posing it against his melancholy.

3. Patrick Troughton
The Second Doctor

The originator of the Doctor’s cosmic hobo factor, Troughton delighted in appearing completely innocuous, only to reveal his true capabilities once he’d fully devised a plan. He could follow his enemies an entire episode and be treated as an afterthought by appearing childish and bumbling, while he observed and took notes the whole way. Though much of his tenure has been lost (TV studios rarely kept tape of their broadcasts as reruns hadn’t been invented yet), what remains shows us the most patient and least self-possessed Doctor of them all.

Unlike other Doctors, he didn’t put the physical safety of his companions first. His primary concern was instead their emotional well-being, a facet later iterations became too egocentric to notice. By the same token, he expected a great deal from his companions, and would show no hesitation in judging one should they betray the group, as one does in briefly allying with the Daleks, who totally don’t still appear in my nightmares I don’t even know why you would bring that up.

Smith has said his own Doctor is based most on his favorite, Troughton.

2. David Tennant
The Tenth Doctor

The foxy Doctor, but really the survivor of the bunch. Tennant said his Doctor was very much based on Davison’s, and you can tell. All the Doctors are intellectuals, but some are intergalactic hobos about it and others are sporty and refined.

The strength of Tennant’s portrayal was in showing how an idealist, through the pain of loss and sacrifice, could become an egoist, breaking the rules he once upheld in order to do what he believes is right.

Tennant’s iteration constantly struggled with survivor’s guilt. He refused to personally accept or confront his melancholy. He progressively compensated for the anger at what he couldn’t control by filling the cracks in his personality with more and more ego. This meant that, near the end, he could sometimes mistake winning a conflict for doing the right thing.

Tennant played this all with beauty and grace, with an internal struggle, pathos, and complexity unrivaled by any of the Doctor’s other actors.

1. Tom Baker
The Fourth Doctor

Impertinent. Impatient. If you’ve never seen him, imagine some combination of Groucho Marx, Gene Wilder, and Ian McKellen, with the face of an extraordinarily expressive scarecrow. He delivered the Doctor’s most satirical lines as if reciting Shakespeare, in a deep voice that seemed to bellow as if you were watching him from the perfect seat at center stage.

He was the Doctor who could run circles around opponents while prioritizing a game of chess against his robot dog, who could threaten an entire room with a word while slouched unmoving and content in an armchair. Proud of his impishness, yet never satisfied with his achievements, what he really brought to the character was drive. The Doctor’s always been driven to save others, but Tom Baker’s was the first who was driven to constantly better himself.

Though his ego was immense, he was his own most critical judge. Likewise, he could cut a companion down without a word or make them think they’d accomplished miracles with a simple, “Well done.” He was also the first Doctor who truly seemed alien in his thinking. You could believe Tom Baker’s Doctor had whole worlds of information swirling around in his head, constantly vying for attention like impatient children tugging at his coattails.

Every other Doctor but Tennant and Tom Baker seems to fall into a very specific definition, but these two were the Doctors who gave the character so much more. Tom Baker was stern like Hartnell, could disarm you with the seeming ignorance of Troughton, and could turn an entire situation around with a well-placed word like Pertwee. He was the best of each of his predecessors, and more than any of them found true fascination and joy in the imperfections and flaws of others. He would adapt himself to his companions rather than demanding they adapted to him and, while he could shift who he was depending on what was needed, you never doubted who he was at his center.

The cleverness of Tom Baker’s comedy hides a much deeper, more complete dramatic performance. You could give this to Tennant and I wouldn’t argue, but Tom Baker did more with less, and is the most singular, impossible-to-imitate personality the Doctor ever had.

Wednesday Collective — Acts of Killing, Vivian Kubrick, Women Critics, BBC Cuts, & Werewolves

(Apologies! Some of the links got messed up when this first posted. They are all fixed now – enjoy!)

I’ve been asked a couple of times if I’m doing any sort of Oscar review. Nope. My Movies We Loved in 2013 post was my personal Oscars, composed of the opinions of the creative minds that I call friends and mentors.

All I’ll say about the Oscars themselves (a week late) is that I’m very happy for Lupita, a graceful and talented representative for my alma mater. On the subject of Hampshire College, another alum, Jonathan Kitzen, saw a film he co-produced, “The Lady in Number 6,” win best documentary short.

The Lady in Number 6

Other than that, I’ll say that Ellen was a thoroughly pleasant host, but my dream telecast is still Hugh Laurie and the Muppets.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
“Yesterday I Met a Man Who Has Killed a Lot of People”

This isn’t about movies per se, but it is about our interest in stories. Many of the stories told in our country today concern war and death. Military and postapocalyptic narratives are popular in film, television, books, and video games. The Loquacionist’s article is a brief and beautiful reflection on hearing one such story from a person who lived it.

CO-ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
The Critical Fight over The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

I’d like to suggest, much as a group of fish is called a school and a group of crows is called a murder, that a group of critics be called a kerfuffle. The Act of Killing is a documentary in which dictators and generals are asked to face the massacres and genocides they carried out in decades past by re-enacting them. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is by many accounts a masterpiece of cinema. Filmmaker Magazine posted an excellent write-up on the generational fight between critics and the debates over theory amongst documentary filmmakers that have formed in support of and against The Act of Killing. It may have been too feel-bad to win the Oscar for Best Documentary, but I’m fairly certain it will be the doc we talk about most for years to come.

Vivian Kubrick’s Twitter

Vivian Kubrick

Vivian Kubrick, daughter of Stanley Kubrick, has been posting never-before-seen photos of her father’s productions, ranging from A Clockwork Orange to The Shining to Full Metal Jacket, on which she composed the score. Not only are they deeply personal photos, but they also reveal hints of a childhood spent amidst terrifying and magical cinematic playgrounds most of us can only visit 3 hours at a time.

Can Women Save Criticism?

Susan Sontag

This is an interesting piece over at IndieWire. Women certainly need a larger role in the critical community. The title is a lead-in to a greater argument over the evaluative nature of criticism. What I can speak to here, and what I’ve written before, is that criticism has reached a state of perpetual navel-gazing. Criticism is too often mistaken for a critique. I’ll allow myself the occasional “300 Sequel Sucks” review when a movie isn’t just bad but morally wrong, but it shouldn’t be my job to decide whether something is good or bad. That means too many different things to too many different people. It should be a critic’s job to help guide people to the movies they’ll most enjoy by clarifying, concentrating, and amplifying a movie’s deeper purpose or message. My idea of a perfect “review” is something you can read through a different lens before and after you see a film. Beforehand, it should shed light on whether it’s the kind of film you might enjoy. Afterward, that same review ought to be a stepping stone toward discussing a film’s deeper meanings. A good review should have the passion of a work of art put into it, the same passion as a poem or story or a movie itself might have.

Anyway, I’m not qualified to speak to a woman’s experience in criticism, but I can say that it’s my view that film criticism as a whole needs to be taken over by a more engaging, less cynical perspective.

The BBC Makes Cuts

Matt Smith angry

The BBC faced a choice between cutting its youth channel BBC3, featuring shows like Little Britain and Being Human, and cutting funding for shows like Sherlock and Doctor Who. If they chose the former, it would be the first channel cut in their 80-year history. If they chose the latter, it would mean the end of their most popular show at home and their two most popular shows abroad. What do you think they chose?

Of Werewolves and Men

The Company of Wolves

On a lighter note, my favorite critics Down Under, Jordan and Eddie, put together a list you typically don’t see everyday – the top 10 werewolf films of all time. I’m glad to see such films as the underseen Dog Soldiers and Neil Jordan’s classic allegory The Company of Wolves featured on this list.